Are Clamps the New Door Wedge?

Raul A. Angulo

I was talking with another captain about training articles in various fire service magazines, and he made a comment about how he wanted to be challenged and couldn’t read another article about door chocks and wedging doors. I felt a sense of embarrassment because I knew that was going to be the subject of this article. The man (and mentor) who got me started in writing was Vincent Dunn, retired deputy chief of the Fire Department of New York (FDNY). I remember him telling me a similar story about his guys criticizing him for writing about a simple subject they already knew about. He answered, “I’m not writing just to the FDNY. I’m writing to career and volunteer firefighters all over the country. As senior firefighters retire across the nation, there is always a new wave of rookies filling in the ranks who may be picking up this magazine for the first time. That learning curve never stops. That’s who I’m writing to.” I never forgot that.

(1) No matter what assignment you have, first-in crews have to maintain easy access through self-closing, self-locking doors. Whether traditional wedges or clamps, they need to be readily accessible from your firefighting protective ensemble.
(1) No matter what assignment you have, first-in crews have to maintain easy access through self-closing, self-locking doors. Whether traditional wedges or clamps, they need to be readily accessible from your firefighting protective ensemble. (Photos by author.)

Firefighters who train hard aren’t afraid to experiment. That’s how some of our forcible entry tools have been developed over the years. A consistent problem presents itself, and resourceful firefighters figure out a way to solve it by inventing a tool or finding new uses for existing tools. Such is the case with Jerome Reyes, a firefighter on my crew. He is constantly experimenting with tools and techniques to find the best way to perform a firefighting tactic. Sometimes they work; sometimes they’re not practical. But, he’s not afraid or embarrassed to try. That’s what I like best about his attitude.

The Jerome Clamp

One day I came to work, and Jerome had these clamps hanging off the edge of his bunker coat. He said, “Hey, Cap! Check this out! I found that you can use these handheld spring-loaded clamps as door chocks. You can clip them to any edge of a door and it will hold it in the open position or in the almost closed position. Some wedges are too small for larger doors and other times regular wedges fall out or accidentally get kicked out. Not with these. And, they’re lightweight and cheap. If you lose it or break it, it’s less than two bucks to replace it. I bought five at Home Depot for less than 10 bucks.”

(2) This spring-loaded hand clamp measures 4½ by 6½ inches, about the same size and weight of a traditional plastic wedge. It's a one-size-fits-all tool with enough spring tension to hold open any commercial or residential walk-through door you're likely to encounter.
(2) This spring-loaded hand clamp measures 4½ by 6½ inches, about the same size and weight of a traditional plastic wedge. It’s a one-size-fits-all tool with enough spring tension to hold open any commercial or residential walk-through door you’re likely to encounter.

My first thought was, “Why do you want those things dangling off your coat? They’re only going to fall off or get in the way.” But I didn’t want to dampen Jerome’s enthusiasm, so I didn’t say anything negative. I just let him try it. Where’s the harm? That conversation took place a year ago.

Since then, I have seen Reyes use these clamps in a variety of situations on both EMS and fire responses, and they have never failed or fallen off his coat.

How Many Wedges Does It Take?

How many wedges should a firefighter carry? I personally carry three. I figure you need at least three or four. For example, one incident any firefighter might encounter is a room fire or an EMS response in a midrise apartment building. Let’s take the EMS call first.

You’re on the first-in company, and ALS paramedics are a few minutes behind. You want to wedge any locked door so the medics aren’t needlessly delayed by the same locked doors you initially encounter. Many of these apartment buildings have front security doors leading into the foyer areas where their entry intercom systems are located for residents to buzz in guests. There’s one wedge. After the crew is buzzed in or it uses a master key from a rapid entry system, there’s usually another security door to enter the lobby. There’s the second wedge. Elevators are normally used on EMS calls. So once you’re on the right floor, you may need to wedge the door to the apartment-the third wedge. Many times, if there is a long hallway, there may be a fire door halfway down the hall, and you’ll need to wedge that, too. That’s four wedges.

(3) Using a clamp to wedge a door open is faster than using a wedge. To clamp the door in the open position, simply place it on the hinged side of the door at any height. The clamp will not slip, unlike a wedge, which has to be more deliberately placed in the proper position for it to hold the door.
(3) Using a clamp to wedge a door open is faster than using a wedge. To clamp the door in the open position, simply place it on the hinged side of the door at any height. The clamp will not slip, unlike a wedge, which has to be more deliberately placed in the proper position for it to hold the door.

In a fire scenario in the same building, let’s say you use one wedge to access the lobby. The standpipe siamese connections are usually close to the stairwell. The exit door to the sidewalk, always locked from the outside for security, needs to be wedged open so firefighters can advance hoselines into the stairwell. The quickest way to open this door is to have a firefighter enter through the lobby, hurry down the first- floor hallway, enter the stairwell, open the exit door, and wedge it. There’s the second wedge. Once firefighters reach the fire floor, the door from the stairwell needs to be wedged-that’s the third wedge. Then the door to the fire room takes a fourth wedge. Because the incident commander (IC) will send units to the floor above for searches and exposure protection, that stairwell door needs to be wedged and if there was a fire door in the middle of the hallway, that door would take a wedge. Go ahead and count them.

Obviously this task isn’t going to be performed by a single firefighter, but it is reasonable to expect that the lead firefighter may be the first crew member crossing the threshold of three to four doors. Between him and his partner, they better have four wedges. All it takes is one door to lock behind the first-in team to delay a backup crew. Never say never, but it’s always a poor choice to use a forcible entry tool for a door stop. It’s unprofessional to say the least and demonstrates you’re not prepared if the situation suddenly turns bad.

Clamp vs. Wedge

There are a couple of advantages to using a clamp instead of a traditional wedge. First, if you place the clamp on the hinged side of the door, it holds it in the open position. Besides using it for access, you may want this door open as part of the horizontal ventilation pathway when using positive pressure ventilation (PPV). Traditional wedges need to be set on the hinged side of the door close to the floor so they don’t fall out. Opening the door just slightly more will cause a wedge that is set high to release and fall. When you use the wedge as a door stopper, some landings and floors have a step or slope down. Often the angle of the wedge is too narrow to hold the door in the open position, and it closes right over it.

(4) Sometimes, you may want to keep a door wedged for access but in the closed position. An example might be when using PPV or when searching a floor above a fire. To wedge the door in a closed position, simply place the clamp on the knob side of the door at any height and let the door close. The clamp will prevent it from latching.
(4) Sometimes, you may want to keep a door wedged for access but in the closed position. An example might be when using PPV or when searching a floor above a fire. To wedge the door in a closed position, simply place the clamp on the knob side of the door at any height and let the door close. The clamp will prevent it from latching.

Second, you may want the door unlocked but in a closed position. A traditional wedge has to be set at the footplate base of the door. The first size 13 fire boot that crosses the threshold is going to kick that wedge 10 feet down the hallway without ever feeling it. If the clamp is set on the knob and lock side of the door at any height, it will allow the door to close on the clamp without it slipping or falling off. Though it’s not a tight seal, it’s still sufficiently closed to control and direct PPV horizontal pathways.

In another scenario, a rescue group has to search numerous upper floors above a fire. In this case, a clamp can be used to indicate the location of a search team on a particular floor. Placing a clamp on the lock side of the door (in a semiclosed position) can effectively limit smoke from entering that floor.

A clamp can also be used to mark the progress of a search. For example, a search crew searches a smoke-charged floor and only completes the search of five apartments. A crew member can attach a clamp to apartment six before exiting and can tell the relief crew to pass five doors and continue the search with the apartment that has a clamp on the doorknob.

(5) Using a clamp to keep a door in a closed position still leaves a bit of a gap between the door and the frame. However, it is minimal and provides for efficient PPV horizontal path control. If there is smoke in the stairwell, the gap is narrow to limit the amount of smoke that may seep into a clear hallway.
(5) Using a clamp to keep a door in a closed position still leaves a bit of a gap between the door and the frame. However, it is minimal and provides for efficient PPV horizontal path control. If there is smoke in the stairwell, the gap is narrow to limit the amount of smoke that may seep into a clear hallway.

It’s definitely more versatile than a traditional wedge, and it’s about the same size and weight of the plastic wedge I carry in my coat. Best of all, one size fits all. A clamp that fits in the palm of your hand will be sufficient to wedge any residential or commercial walk-through door you’ll encounter.

Case in Point

The other night, Ladder 6 had to cover a large view window that was broken out on the sixth floor of a midrise condominium. My crew went up to the unit while I surveyed the area below where all the broken glass had fallen because we were going to have to clear the window of the remaining glass shards. When I got to the lobby door, it was locked. After my crew buzzed me in, I decided to wedge the door open. I reached in my coat and got a sprinkler wedge. It was too small. I grabbed the second wedge to double it but it kept slipping out of the hinged side. I had webbing but there was nothing to tie the door to. There was a slope to the sidewalk, and the door closed right over my wedge. All I needed was a simple clamp! Where was Reyes when I needed him?

(6) A clamp placed on a doorknob can signal a varierty of "in-house" messages. It can indicate a room has been searched or needs to be searched or that a search crew is inside. As long as the message is clearly communicated, the clamp can be used to mark or signal a variety of situations.
(6) A clamp placed on a doorknob can signal a varierty of “in-house” messages. It can indicate a room has been searched or needs to be searched or that a search crew is inside. As long as the message is clearly communicated, the clamp can be used to mark or signal a variety of situations.

RAUL A. ANGULO, a veteran of the Seattle (WA) Fire Department and captain of Ladder Company 6, has more than 30 years in the fire service. He is a member of the Fire Apparatus & Emergency Equipment editorial advisory board. He lectures on fire service leadership, company officer development, and fireground strategy and accountability.

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